In order to help chase away my post-Cowboys-loss blues, I decided to watch the Giants beat up on the Bengals. Thankfully, I was not disappointed. More importantly, while watching the game, the player that stuck out was Giants safety, Landon Collins. It seemed as though the kid was developing right before my very eyes.
Immediately, I had a flashback to the 2015 draft, wherein Mike Tomlin tried to trade up (to pick #33) in order to draft Collins. The Steelers offered a fourth-round pick, but the Giants wanted a third-round pick. The trade fell through, and adding insult to injury, the Giants took the exact player for whom the Steelers were attempting to trade up (Collins).
What is interesting is that just one year prior, the Giants duped the Steelers in a similar fashion. It was well known that Tomlin had a man-crush on Odell Beckham, Jr. In turn, the Steelers offered their fourth-round pick, in order to move up three spots (from fifteen to twelve). The Giants wanted a third-round pick, but because the Steelers had already traded away their third-round pick to the Browns (in order to acquire an extra fourth-round pick in 2013, where they drafted Shamarko “Bust” Thomas and Landry “Ugh” Jones), the trade fell through. Once again, as if to pour salt in the wound, the Giants took Beckham for themselves.
In hindsight, I would gladly have skipped on either Thomas or Jones (or both actually ) and kept that 2014 third-round choice… which I would have used in order to acquire Beckham. Then, with the receiving corps set, there would have been no need to use the 2015 third-round pick on Sammie Coates, making that pick expendable… and available to use in order to acquire Landon Collins.
In other words, if both of those Giants trades had come to fruition, the Steelers would currently have a receiving tandem of Antonio Brown and Odell Beckham, Jr., and a starting safety combo of Landon Collins and Sean Davis (plus, a respectable inside linebacker in Vince Williams).
Sure, in this “hindsight is 20/20” scenario, the Steelers would be without Shamarko Thomas (and/or, Landry Jones), without Sammie Coates, without Senquez Golson, and without Ryan Shazier… but, except for Shazier, none of those current Steelers players is anywhere nearly as accomplished as his hypothetical counterpart. Collins is on the verge of stardom, while Thomas is barely making the roster; Beckham is in contention for the title of “best” receiver in the league, whereas Coates is simply average; and, Golson has never even played a down in the NFL (ergo, not drafting him would be essentially the same thing as the current situation)
If the career statistics are not obvious enough, I will add a game-specific example of the difference between Beckham & Collins and Coates & Thomas(/Mitchell). This past Sunday against the Cowboys, if Beckham was on the Steelers, he absolutely catches that pass in the end-zone towards the end of the first half. In Coates’s defense, the Dallas defensive back held his bicep; but even if there was no interference, I am still not certain that Coates would have caught the ball. Similarly, if Collins is playing safety (instead of Mike Mitchell), I doubt that either of the two big pass plays (to Ezekiel Elliott and to Dez Bryant) occur. Those may or may not have “actually” been Mitchell’s fault, but let me put it this way: in that one game, the opposition had more big plays than Ryan Clark would have allowed in an entire season. In other words, I have grown tired of watching Mitchell blindly going for the big hit. Not only does he not wrap up, he often completely whiffs. In this game alone, Sean Davis wrapped up and stopped more third-downs that Mitchell has done in his entire Pittsburgh career… which brings us back to Collins, who I enjoyed watching wrap up Bengal receivers.
Obviously, this is crying over spilled milk, because you can not change the past; neither Beckham nor Collins are on this team. Moving forward, the Steelers need a receiver to pair with Antonio Brown. Last season, when he was facing double- (and triple-) teams, Ben Roethlisberger used to target Heath Miller and/or Martavis Bryant. Alas, neither is available (Miller retired, and Bryant is suspended). While the Steelers have a bevy of competent “third” receivers (Sammie Coates, Eli Rogers, Markus Wheaton, Darius Heyward-Bey, Cobi Hamilton), they do not have a true “two” receiver. Likewise, the departure of Heath Miller left a hole to fill the size of Mama June; alas, Jesse James is merely average and Ladarius Green has been injured. Likewise, the greatness of Ryan Clark is now abundantly clear. While I have plenty to be hopeful about when I watch Sean Davis at strong safety, I personally feel that this secondary will continue to give up big plays as long as Mike Mitchell is the starting free safety, which is why I have lobbied for players such as Deone Bucannon and Karl Joseph to be drafted, and why I am currently looking strongly at Malik Hooker, Justin Evans, and Tony Conner.
But, before we move on to next year’s draft, this season is far from over. There are still seven games left, with four of those being division games. If the Steelers win just those four games, they would be 8-8… which might actually win the AFC North. I joke… sort of. Really though, the potential is indeed there for the Steelers to win out, but unless they correct some of their flaws, they could just as easily lose all seven of those remaining games In order to win out, one (or all) of the following needs to occur:
-One of those aforementioned receivers becomes a legitimate “two”
-Ladarius Green earns his $20 million contract
-Mike Mitchell starts wrapping up
Really. It is indeed that simple. When you have one of the best quarterbacks (Roethlisberger), best running backs (Le’Veon Bell), and the very best wide receiver (Brown) in the entire NFL on your roster, it does not require whole-sale changes in order to go from losing close games to winning them. So… please… Sammie Coates, use your hands; Ladarius Green, use the ice tub; and, Mike Mitchell, use your head.